Tommy Clough

Tommy, a Korean War veteran, became involved with SSAFA and Age UK's Joining Forces project.

Tommy Clough

Tommy, a Korean War veteran, became involved with SSAFA and Age UK's Joining Forces project.

SSAFA and Age UK's Joining Forces scheme in Gloucestershire has launched a ‘Digital Storytelling’ project with the Soldiers of Gloucester Museum. The project encourages veterans to recall stories from their military past, which can then be recorded as a digital story. The project aims to keep the incredible stories of veterans alive for future generations so we can all learn from the past in an interesting and innovative way.

Tommy Clough, 88, is one veteran that has been involved in the project. Tommy joined the army when he was only 14 and served 32 years, eventually leaving the Gloucestershire Regiment in 1977.

Tommy said: "It was a good idea this amalgamation between Age UK and SSAFA. It’s only me and my cat FiFi, and she’s not very amusing. It gets me out the house and I really enjoy going to the museum.

"I joined the army for travel and adventure, but my father didn’t want me to go. I was eight when he went to fight in World War Two, he was gone as soon as the war started and within months of coming back from Dunkirk, he was off to the Far East. My dad didn’t come back until after the war and he was a changed man. He was taken prisoner in Singapore and he didn’t ever want me to go through the same thing. But I liked the army and I liked the life, so I stayed. Little did I know that I would follow in my father’s footsteps…

"I got a posting to a unit in Worcester and it was there that I found out I was going to Korea, so off we went to Korea - it was like a cruise! We saw flying fish and everything, we’d never seen anything like it. I was enjoying every moment. We got there in September and the weather was very pleasant.

"Then the Chinese came to reinvade North Korea and give it back to the Koreans. The Americans that were with us started to retreat. Truman was afraid of starting World War Three and didn’t want to fight them. We managed to retreat down to the border of North and South Korea and that’s where we stood. Then we slowly started to advance, driving the North Koreans and Chinese back. We were in this position for three weeks – no contact at all with the enemy, we had to send patrols to find out where they were.

"On the night of 22nd April, all hell broke loose. My commanding officer handed me his binoculars to have a look and I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were literally thousands of them – Chinese and North Koreans. That’s when I knew we were in trouble. One of the lads said to me ‘are there many of them?’ and I couldn’t tell him the truth because I didn’t want to spread alarm.

The officer in command withdrew us to one hill, we stayed there and ended up being completely surrounded. We stuck in out for three days, but we had a lot of wounded, no water or food and importantly, no ammo. We ended up throwing rocks at them because we had nothing left.

"On the third day, an airstrike was called. The Americans used napalm. It was horrible to see; napalm is a terrible weapon. All we could hear was the screams of the enemy and the smell of burning flesh. I will never forget that.

"On the 25th, it was decided we would leave the hill. We couldn’t take the wounded with us, the brave medical officers stayed with the wounded, but the rest of us went South. It was every man for himself.

"We stood no chance. We were fighting our way out with no ammo. The Chinese were just picking us off – we were in the valley and they were above us. I only had five rounds left in my rifle. The Chinese ended up coming down from both sides and I heard someone shout ‘Right lads, lay down your weapons, we’ve had it’. And that was it. I suddenly realised how cheap life was.

"We went to prisoner camps in North Korea and it took us five weeks to get there. The Chinese were terrified of using aircrafts because the Americans were trigger-happy and would fire at anything. The distance marched was about 500 miles.

"The prison camp was boring to a certain extent, but you never knew what was going to happen. When we were taken prisoner, the Americans and the Chinese started peace talks. We thought, great, home by Christmas… no chance.

"The first year was bad. Luckily, we got captured in April when the weather was mild but the Americans that had been captured in winter were in a hell of a state – they were dropping like flies. Morale was so low, and we had to make a conscious effort to survive. Altogether I was a prisoner for two and a half years.

"It was difficult coming back from being a prisoner. I still suffer from PTSD and I find it hard to sleep at night. Trouble is, I don’t want to get dramatic, but I have too many memories. I lay awake and I go back over my life and I think of the things I did, and the things I didn’t do or should have done. It’s a strange feeling.

"I ended my army career in recruitment, based in Gloucester. The government made everyone redundant. I was literally out. I had to find a job and accommodation and I had children and my wife to look after. We had to find somewhere fast, so I took a job as a caretaker at a school - the job came with accommodation. I was there for 18 years after that.

"It was a good life, especially after the army. I loved the army, I really did. I have no regrets, but it did have its ups and downs."